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Ivey: Defense — not quarterbacks — wins championships

| Thursday, October 6, 2016

When the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 back in February, everyone kept talking about one thing — Peyton Manning.

The big story was how Manning was finally able to win that elusive second Super Bowl ring. He was finally able to win the big one. Not only that, it ended up being his final NFL game. He ended his career on top.

What many may be forgetting, however, is that the Broncos won the Super Bowl last year more despite Manning’s play than because of it.

In 2015, Manning had the worst statistical year of his illustrious career. He had trouble throwing the ball as far as 15 yards down the field and there were times when his backup, Brock Osweiler, looked better than him.

Manning retired and Osweiler left to join the Texans in the offseason, which opened up a quarterback competition for the Broncos. Largely unknown second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian surprised many and beat first-round pick Paxton Lynch for the starting job. Siemian has led the Broncos to a 4-0 record to begin the season. However, Siemian was hurt in the Broncos Week 4 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and replaced by Lynch.

It seems like the Broncos can play anybody as their starting quarterback and still win. How is this possible?

The answer is simple: defense.

It was the Broncos defense that propelled them to the title last season, and it has been the Broncos defense that has enabled them to start this season 4-0.

The Broncos’ suffocating defense is the reason they have been on such a dominating run during the first two years of Gary Kubiak’s head-coaching tenure there. Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips have created a defense that has completely shut down high profile quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Jameis Winston. They almost make it look easy.

The Broncos defense is just further proof that the key to winning a championship isn’t a good quarterback, but a good defense.

Look no further than Alabama last season when they won the College Football Playoff National Championship. The engine of that Alabama team, as with their other recent national championship teams, was the defensive unit. This allowed them to win a national championship with Jake Coker as their starting quarterback.

A couple of years before the Broncos had the best defense in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks held that distinction. The 2013 Seahawks defense recorded the best defensive statistics since the 1985 Chicago Bears on their way to a Super Bowl victory. They were able to make a return trip to the Super Bowl the following year. Even though quarterback Russell Wilson was a big part of the Seahawks’ success, the defense was the main reason the Seahawks were so successful during that two-year run.

Speaking of the 1985 Bears, they are another prime example of a team that won a championship because of their defense and not their quarterback. The Bears executed Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense to near perfection on their way to a dominant season and Super Bowl victory. Their quarterback that season was Jim McMahon, whose main role on offense was pretty much handing off the ball to running back Walter Payton.

We have all heard the phrase “defense wins championships.” Perhaps we have never seen a time when that rings more true than now. There are three undefeated teams remaining in the NFL: the Minnesota Vikings, the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles. Their starting quarterbacks are Sam Bradford, Matt Siemian and rookie Carson Wentz, respectively. Not exactly game breakers.

Even though having a high-caliber quarterback obviously won’t hurt a football team, it is not as necessary to winning a championship as having a high-caliber defense.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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